Northern Africa and the Middle East are dominated by hatred: dead bodies, injured people, hurt religious egos, the charred remains of embassies, and brute rhetoric dominate media coverage. The script of the past few feverish days reads like the strange draft of a new Quentin Tarantino movie. The story: an Egyptian American with a long criminal record is released from prison and produces a movie that ridicules the prophet Mohammed.
So far, so normal. In a less crazy world, the story would end here (as it should). But the headlines of the past week illustrate the opposite: we are becoming witnesses to a product launch by an industry that I want to call, borrowing from “Time” author Bobby Ghosh, an “industry of hate”. It works like this:
The most important resource of the globally operating industry of hate is extremism, usually of the religious kind, and it can be found in all corners of the globe. Every uproar requires a spark, the core idea of the product – the “unique selling point,” in business terms. Creativity is key: a burned-out church or the rendering of Mohammed as a violent and sexist blighter have served the industry well in the past. Like any other economic sector, the industry of hate has its own shooting stars (Al Qaeda) and offers training opportunities (Pakistani and Yemeni terror camps). Those with good ideas are soon discovered by the industry’s facilitators, like the evangelical priest Terry Jones, and will soon enjoy public attention as well as financial support from wealthy incubators (the sheikhs in the Gulf states). Anything goes as long as it sows hate.
The product – in this case, the Youtube video about Prophet Mohammed – is then readied for the big launch event. A test screening in Egypt proves successful, and the movie begins to circulate more widely. It’s a case study of viral marketing: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, and Sudan came first; Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon are next. Algeria, Nigeria, Iraq, and Turkey are getting ready. Champaign bottles pop open as the industry celebrates another blockbuster product.
The industry of hate faces a seller’s market, especially in Yemen and Libya, where state structures are weak or fragile. Egyptian authorities were overwhelmed with the protests and did not stop them. There’s also reason to believe that the Egyptian inability to deal with unrest was really an unwillingness to do so. The outbursts of violence are a counter-example to the narrative of “fearless” revolutionaries during the Arab Spring. The new leaders of the Middle East – many of them religious reformists, not secularists – know the extent of religious wrath.
What’s next? First, the good news: Despite headlines that suggest the opposite, not all of the Muslim world is in uproar. Of the more than 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide, no more than 100,000 seem to have participated in the riots. That’s still a high and unsettling number, but a quick calculation yields a very low percentage. But when flags are burned, when diplomats die, and embassies are stormed, it’s hard to see clearly through the haze. The industry of hate caters to a demand that is partially (or largely) created by its own agents – any marketing specialist would rejoice at their effectiveness. East against West, Christians against Muslims, the people against the elites: the industry can offer many areas of tension. Our goal must be to suck the energy out of this self-perpetuating cycle.
This might require a determined first step, for example, a radical rethinking of American warfare: The United States could terminate their drone program. According to the donation-funded British “Bureau of Investigative Journalism”, drone strikes have killed between 550 and 1100 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia in recent years. The total number of casualties is estimated between 3000 and 4500. It shouldn’t surprise us that many people in Yemen are now too scared to attend wedding ceremonies (as “The Economist” reports). No matter how harmless the gathering might be, exposing oneself in a large group might suddenly turn fatal.
It’s obvious that most civilian victims occur near areas with high concentrations of suspected terrorists – those are the targets of drone strikes. And it’s equally obvious that every civilian victim leaves behind a cohort of relatives, some of which might quickly become radicalized in the post-strike environment. Every bomb spawns ten future jihadists. American expenditures for the drone program are indirect subsidies for the Muslim subsidiaries of the global industry of hate. They are preparing the fertile ground for extremists, whose voices then drown out the words of reason of moderates and conciliatory Muslims. It’s this indirect connection that links drone warfare to the attacks on American embassies.
We should be alarmed that other nations are now considering investments in similar technologies. The German Bundeswehr openly discusses the purchase of armed drones and continues to defend their use as “ethically neutral” even in light of mounting civilian casualties. If any money is left after the purchase, we might as well invest it into embassy fortifications and panic rooms. One thing is certain: the industry of hate has more products in the pipeline.